Brisket Fat Side Up Or Down: The Long-Debated Topic

Brisket is a cut from the bottom breast area of the cow. The brisket is usually cooked over low heat until tender. Brisket is often served sliced thin and eaten cold, or it can be braised, smoked, or barbecued.

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down The Long-Debated Topic

Brisket is considered a fatty cut of beef because of its high percentage of intramuscular fat. This type of fat is found deep within muscle fibers and helps give meat flavor and juiciness.

There are two main ways to smoke a brisket: either flat (fat side up) or rolled (fat side down). Some people say that cooking brisket fat side up makes it taste better, while others claim that it tastes better when cooked fat side down.

So, what is the correct answer? Let’s find out together. 

Is It Fat Side Up Or Down? 

The short answer is both!

It depends on how you like your food. Whether you cook your brisket fat side up or down is completely up to your personal preference. Either side you fall on, you’re going to have others telling you that you’re wrong. 

The general rule is that the fat should be closer to the heat source than the meat so that it acts as a shield to prevent the meat from drying out. However, you’re free to cook your brisket however you feel is best for your taste buds. 

Does Brisket Contain A Lot Of Fat?

Yes, but not too much. Brisket has about 30% fat by weight. That may sound like a lot, but remember that most of this fat is located in the muscles of the brisket. The fat within the muscles is called marbling. The more marbling, the better! 

Marbled fat helps keep the meat juicy during the cooking process thanks to the fat breaking down throughout it and allowing moisture to remain surrounding the brisket. 

The flat of the brisket, or the first cut, also includes a long strip of fat along its outside. This is otherwise known as the fat cap. This is the fat that has sparked the up or down debate for so long among brisket lovers. 

What Do You Do With The Fat Cap? 

You can trim off the fat cap if you want, but there really isn’t any need to do so. If you remove all the fat cap, then you’ll lose some of the flavor and texture that comes with having such a thick fat cap.

Removing too much might also allow your meat to dry out too much. 

Some pitmasters leave all of the fat cap on the meat white cooking to benefit from all of the juices within it. However, most people trim the fat cap to be around a quarter inch.

This will render while cooking so that it comes out of the oven or smoker without a thick layer of fat still on it. Any fat that is still attached will be easy to remove before serving. 

Trimming A Brisket’s Fat Cap 

Before you trim the fat cap, make sure that you remove all of the brisket packaging and rinse the meat properly. Leave it to dry on a clean work surface and get your knife.

We have found that a boning knife is best for trimming the fat cap. A boning knife is the perfect length to slice the fat in one swoop rather than having to use multiple strokes. 

Now practice how you’re going to hold your knife. The blade is going to have to be parallel to the brisket flat so that you can slice the whole length of the brisket in one go. 

To trim the fat cap, start at one end of the brisket. Cut straight across the top of the brisket, stopping just above where the fat begins to turn into lean meat (remember you want it to be about a quarter inch thick).

Continue slicing until you reach the middle of the brisket, where the flat ends. 

Now flip the brisket around so that the point end was where the flat just was. Now it’s time to trim the fat cap off the point end. There is a much thinner amount of fat here, so you will need to be a little more careful when trimming. 

Before we trim the point end, though, we have to remove the deckle. This is a thick layer of fat between the point and the flat end of the brisket. Take your knife and carefully work your way around this, separating it from the point BUT NOT the flat. 

The majority of the point end’s fat cap is marbled and therefore shouldn’t be too trimmed. However, you can trim any rough edges from the point to stop them from burning. 

Don’t worry if you don’t get everything perfectly clean cut. Just make sure you’ve removed enough fat from all over the brisket so that the final fat layer is even.

You don’t want the point to have less fat on it than the flat, otherwise the former will dry out quicker than the latter. 

Ensuring that the fat cap is even over the entire brisket will help it to cook evenly without any of the meat becoming dry or tough. 

You can save this fat for another purpose, or you can throw it away. If you want to keep it, make sure that you store it in a zip-lock bag or airtight container.

You can freeze the trimmings until you’re ready to use them to prevent them from going bad in the meantime. 

Does The Brisket Go Fat Side Up Or Down?

This has been a long debate among pitmasters. It seems like everyone has their own opinion on what they prefer. Here are some of our thoughts on the subject. 

Brisket Fat Side Up or Down The Long-Debated Topic (1)

Let’s delve deeper into the benefits and drawbacks of both options so that you can make an informed decision on what you’re going to do.

We know that you don’t want to spend hours cooking a brisket that you’re not going to enjoy the most out of, which is why preparation is key. 

Once you figure out the best way to put your brisket in the cooker for you, you can get to cooking it and enjoying it quicker! 

Cooking A Brisket Fat Side Up

One thing that many people love about cooking a brisket fat side up is that it renders the fat better. As the meat heats up, the fat begins to render and coat the meat with a natural amount of basting. This means that you don’t need to baste it as much. 

However, it’s worth noting that the meat won’t absorb any of the fat like it would water or juice. This means that the majority of the rendered fat will end up in the drip pan. 

Cooking a brisket with the fat upwards also might make the bark look less impressive due to the leaner meat being pressed up towards the grate on the bottom. 

Another potential issue is that the fat could melt and wash the spice rub away with it. This will leave your brisket with less flavor than it should have. If you’re using just a simple blend of spices, then this might not make too much of a difference. 

However, if you’re using an expensive rub that you’re excited for, the fat washing it away might be incredibly annoying. 

Cooking A Brisket Fat Side Down

Now that people are beginning to realize that the fat side up method might have its drawbacks, they are beginning to experiment with the fat being on the bottom of the brisket while cooking. 

If your fat cap is on the bottom of the cooker, then this method will be best for you to avoid your brisket from drying out. The fat acts as a shield so that the most intense heat has to pass through the fat to get to the meat. 

Another benefit to cooking a brisket fat side down is that it can actually enhance the flavor. Not only will it prevent the spice rub from being washed off of the meat, but the rendered fat will drip into the drip grate. 

Here it will be heated by the heat source more to create more smoke than before. This should leave you with an amazing smoky flavor that you might not get from a brisket that is cooked fat side up. 

However, there is a downside to both of these methods and this is the one for fat side down – modern smokers might not allow for its benefits. 

This is due to the fact that manufacturers don’t want their smokers drying out your meat. So, they put two sources of heat in them instead of one. The first will be at the bottom, created by burning wood chips like we expect. 

The second is a forced air heater which allows for even cooking. This will be nearer the top of the smoker.

So, while the fat on the bottom of the brisket is protecting it from one heat source, the top is completely unprotected from its layer of fat, increasing the chances of it drying out. 


So, which is best? Well, that depends on the type of smoker you have. If your smoker only has one heat source at the bottom of it, you might find that cooking fat side down would be better.

However, if your smoker has two heat sources, the fat side up method could be the one for you.

Of course, you could always flip your meat halfway through cooking to ensure that you get the best of both worlds. Whichever side you choose, we hope that you’ve learned something useful from our article!

John Rinder
Latest posts by John Rinder (see all)